An Italian daily newsletter recently published an article entitled "Gli orti d'oro di Slow Food" (Slow Food's golden gardens), claiming that Slow Food has entered the "business" of international development by raising funds for creating 10,000 food gardens in Africa and then using 70% of the donations to pay for its own structure. According to the article, "Every food garden requires an investment of 900 euros. No small figure. Then one finds out that the garden itself costs 250 euros, the rest is ‘hot air'."
Such a strong criticism is not based on actual knowledge of our project. The writer of the piece did not contact Slow Food for information, nor talk to the African garden coordinators, nor visit the Slow Food gardens in Africa. Instead, he did no more than look at a table on our website and give his personal interpretation of it, seeking to discredit one of Slow Food's most important projects; a project that involves over 50,000 people in Africa and is mobilizing tens of thousands of members and activists around the world.
Let us explain this table. Not so much to respond to the article, but out of respect for our network of donors, who believe in this project, and who include tens of thousands of people who have made their contribution by taking the effort to collect many small amounts of money, participating in everyday volunteering activities, and out of respect for our African network, made up of many young people, women, farmers, teachers, students and chefs working in 30 countries.
In Africa Slow Food is not simply creating a number of food gardens (a hundred, a thousand or ten thousand) but is promoting an idea of agriculture based on understanding the land and respecting biodiversity and local cultures. An agriculture able to feed African communities without denaturing social relationships and devastating the environment, but by relying on the dignity of communities (their history, their wisdom) and respect for the land and its ecological equilibrium. This is why, in Slow Food gardens, traditional varieties of vegetables, fruits and culinary and medicinal herbs are planted (those best suited to the local conditions); nurseries are built to reproduce seeds (so they do not have to be bought every year and to preserve biodiversity); green waste, manure and ashes are composted for fertilizer (to save money and avoid killing the soil with chemical fertilizers); water is saved (by collecting rainwater, maintaining soil moisture through good practices like mulching and using drip irrigation); the harvest is consumed at home or in schools (for school gardens) and the surplus is sold at local markets or small restaurants next to the food gardens (like the community garden in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso).
All this requires people who are trained and aware. It requires young leaders who can motivate communities. This is why the amount that Slow Food asks for to support one food garden (€900) is not used just to buy hoes, wheelbarrows, watering cans and fences (€250) but also to pay for the work and training of the African coordinators who organize the communities (€200); to ensure scholarships for young people (€100); to allow them to travel, get to know other contexts and meet other communities (€100) and to translate and print educational material in African languages (€50). All of this money goes directly to the African countries.
Slow Food receives €200 (22.2%), necessary for covering the costs of coordinating the project, including drawing up guidelines for the food gardens, identifying agronomists, producing educational content, networking together the country coordinators, managing the exchange of information between the network of donors and the African food garden communities and communication.
The €900 is not an annual amount, as the article claims, but was used for three years of work, from 2011 (the year the project was launched) to 2013 (when the first 1,000 gardens were created). And the 1,000 food gardens created so far still exist and will continue to exist, without additional funding.
With the funds collected for the first 1,000 food gardens (the description of each individual garden can be found on our website and soon you will be able to find them on Google Maps), we also paid for the work of 58 African coordinators, involved 55 African agronomists, organized 31 training seminars for a total of around 1,000 people from 25 African countries, funded 7 scholarships and paid the costs of numerous study trips and internships (Roba Bulga and John Kariuki, the current national Slow Food coordinators in Ethiopia and Kenya, are former students who benefitted from these scholarships) and produced and distributed educational material (videos, brochures, manuals, comics) in 17 languages (English, French and Portuguese, but also Swahili, Amharic, Omoro, Bambarà, Zulu and many others).
Many of the people involved in this project have become leaders at a local and national level, but also on the international stage: Edward Mukiibi, coordinator of the Ugandan gardens, is now the vice-president of Slow Food International; John Kariuki Mwangi, the Kenyan garden coordinator, is a Slow Food International Councilor and a member of the Board of Directors of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity; Sara El Sayed, in charge of the Egyptian gardens, and Lhoussaine El Rhaffari, in charge of the Moroccan gardens, are also Slow Food International Councilors, as is Herschelle Millford, the South African garden coordinator.
This, to us, is real development. Real politics. The rest is "hot air."
Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food
Translation: Carla Ranicki